Detroit is one of the most unique cities in America. It has a history of struggle and resilience that you can feel in every corner, but it’s also a city on the rise, full of creative energy and new opportunities.
Despite its nickname, there’s more to Motor City than just cars and manufacturing. There’s Belle Isle – a green space in the middle of the Detroit River that’s perfect for picnics, fishing, and kayaking. The Detroit Zoo is one of the best in the US, and world-class museums fill the city, from the Detroit Institute of Arts to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
If you’re a music fan, you’re going to love Detroit! It has a rich musical heritage, and you can hear everything from Motown to rock ‘n’ roll in the city’s many live music venues. Finally, bring your appetite to your Detroit trip! The city is a comfort food paradise. From Coney dogs to smoky barbecue, you’ll find all sorts of delicious eats in Detroit.
With so many awesome things to see and do, it can be challenging to know where to start! To help you plan the ultimate Detroit itinerary, we’ve created this list of the absolute best things to do in Detroit for you. We included a bit of everything, from top attractions to essential Detroit experiences, so you can make the most of your time in this incredible city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Detroit, MI
1. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is one of the largest and most popular art museums in the United States, with a collection that spans thousands of years and contains pieces from some of the world’s most famous artists. The museum is located in Midtown Detroit in a stunning building that was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert.
The DIA offers visitors a chance to view both traditional and contemporary art from all over the world. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, and Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Detroit Institute of Arts also hosts special exhibitions throughout the year. Past exhibitions have included everything from works by Impressionist masters to an exhibition on fashion in Africa. Plus, the staff is knowledgeable and passionate about art, so they can help you learn more about the pieces on display.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is located in downtown Detroit, just a few blocks away from the Detroit Riverfront. You can reach the museum by taking the People Mover, a public transportation system that circles downtown Detroit, or by taking a bus or taxi.
2. Stroll Along the Detroit RiverWalk
Thanks to the leadership of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, what used to be an industrial wasteland is now a beautiful and dynamic space for all to enjoy, and the RiverWalk is loaded with some of the coolest things to do in Detroit.
The RiverWalk covers 3.5 miles from Gabriel Richard Park to the Joe Louis Arena and is set for further expansion. Along this path, you’ll come across several scenic parks, historic districts, various restaurants, and lots of options for outdoor recreation.
There’s something for everyone here, and we mean it. Think tai chi classes, walking tours for seniors, and water activities like kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. In the winter months, you can even ice skate along the Riverfront!
Other highlights of the Detroit RiverWalk include the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, which is perfect for picnicking, fishing, and birdwatching. The Dequindre Cut Greenway’s pedestrian and bike paths will take you through some of Detroit’s coolest neighborhoods. And Hart Plaza is where you’ll find beautiful public art installations, fountains, and an amphitheater, where concerts and other events are held throughout the year.
3. Relax on Belle Isle
Belle Isle is a beautiful, scenic getaway in the middle of Detroit. If you’re coming from downtown, take the People Mover (Detroit’s transit system) to the park’s stop at the Belle Isle Station.
Once you’re on Belle Isle, there are several great ways to spend your time. The island is home to three museums: the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory (a botanical garden), Dossin Great Lakes Museum (all about maritime history), and Detroit Yacht Club Museum. All three are free! You could spend all day exploring them and still not see everything they have to offer. There’s also the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Belle Isle Casino if you’re looking for more fun things to do in Detroit.
There are also tons of trails throughout Belle Isle that lead through beautiful wooded areas and alongside ponds full of wildlife. There are plenty of picnic spots along these paths if you want to stop for lunch or just enjoy some quiet time.
4. Go on a Historic Tour of Fort Wayne
Detroit’s Historic Fort Wayne is a must-see for visitors interested in the city’s military history. The fort dates back to 1840 and played an important role in the American Civil War. Today, it’s open to the public for tours led by knowledgeable guides.
During the tour, you’ll be able to explore the old military barracks where soldiers used to live. You can also check out the dry moat and tunnel, which were built to protect the fort from attackers. The parade ground is also impressive, and you’ll get to see the long stone building that served as the Commanding Officer’s House.
The fort is located in West Jefferson, which is just a short way from downtown Detroit. Try going during the summer, when many of the fort’s special events are held!
5. Explore Music History at the Motown Museum
Music fan or not, you’ll want to add the Motown Museum to your Detroit itinerary. This museum is dedicated to the history of Motown Records, one of the most influential record labels of the 20th century.
Some of the biggest names in music got their start at Motown, including Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Smokey Robinson. The museum tells their story – and the story of Motown itself – through interactive exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia displays.
One of the best things about the Motown Museum is that it’s located in the same building where many of Motown’s biggest hits were recorded. So when you’re touring the museum, you’ll also be walking in the footsteps of music legends. Just imagine standing in the studio where Marvin Gaye recorded “I Heard It Through the Grapevine!”
6. Learn the City’s Story at the Detroit Historical Museum
The Detroit Historical Museum covers all aspects of Detroit history, from its founding by French explorers to its days as a booming automotive hub. It’s one of the best things to do in Detroit, especially since the exhibits are so thoughtfully designed.
For instance, you’ll see life-size dioramas of what life was like in Detroit during different periods of its history. There’s also an exhibit on the Underground Railroad, which features a replica of the hidden basement room where escaped slaves used to hide.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, the Detroit Historical Museum also hosts temporary ones on everything from sports to fashion. And since it’s just a quick walk from the Detroit Institute of Arts, you could easily check off two of the best Detroit attractions in one day!
7. Shop for Fresh Finds at the Eastern Market
Every Saturday morning, the streets of Detroit’s Eastern Market come alive with the sights and smells of fresh produce, flowers, and food. This historic market has been serving Detroiters since 1891 and is one of the largest farmers’ markets in the entire country. The sheer size of the market can be overwhelming, but that’s all part of the experience!
Take your time as you meander through the market and stop to chat with the vendors. They’re incredibly friendly and happy to give out samples of their wares! We recommend stopping by during the weekend when farmers from all over Michigan come to sell their freshest and finest produce.
But even if you can’t make it on a Saturday, the market is still worth every minute you spend there. Follow your nose to any of the food trucks and stalls selling everything from falafel to freshly-made pies. You can also find flowers, artisanal goods, and even locally-brewed beer, wines, spirits, and many other awesome products.
8. Catch a Show at the Historic Fox Theatre
If you’re looking for some evening entertainment, head over to the Fox Theatre. This historic venue first opened its doors in 1928 and has since been restored to its former glory.
Today, it’s one of Detroit’s premier performance venues, hosting everything from Broadway shows to rock concerts. Make sure to check the schedule before your visit so you can catch a show during your stay!
Even if you’re not attending a show, we strongly recommend wandering around the theater to take in its breathtaking interior. The Fox Theatre is absolutely palatial. Both the main theater and the six-story lobby are dripping in opulence, from ornate plasterwork to sparkling chandeliers.
9. Check Out Detroit’s Top Landmarks
For a well-rounded introduction to Detroit, make sure to hit up some of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Among them is the Spirit of Detroit, a massive bronze sculpture that has come to symbolize the city’s resilient spirit. The Guardian Building is gorgeous and quirky at the same time. You’ll love looking at the kaleidoscopic ceilings, skylights, the rare blood-red and black marble integrated into its design, and the outstanding mural in the lobby.
Then there’s the Renaissance Center, a complex of seven interconnected skyscrapers that’s home to GM’s world headquarters, various shops and restaurants, and even a hotel. If you love books, one of the best things to do in Detroit is to get lost inside the Detroit Public Library. Built in 1923, this spectacular building features barrel-vaulted ceilings covered with murals, colorful glass windows, marble walls, and of course, countless books!
Lastly, don’t forget to pose in front of The Fist! You’ll find this gigantic sculpture near Hart Plaza, with the fist pointing toward the Detroit River.
10. Witness the US’s Industrial Revolution at the Henry Ford Museum
While it’s technically located in Dearborn, which is eight miles from downtown, the Henry Ford Museum is practically synonymous with Detroit. This award-winning museum spans over 250 acres with three major attractions: the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and the Greenfield Village.
Despite the name, the Henry Ford Museum doesn’t revolve solely around Ford. It’s actually an homage to the industrial and technological achievements of the US.
One of the most popular exhibits is the vehicle where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But there are also locomotives, aircraft, and all sorts of gadgets on display, from early computers to the first mass-produced automobile.
On the other hand, Greenwich Village is a step back in time as far back as the 18th century. This open-air museum lets you experience what life was like in Early America, with nearly 100 original and replica buildings that have been transplanted from various parts of the country. Seeing the bicycle factory where the Wright brothers used to work is a must, as is taking a spin on a Model T Ford!
11. Meet the Wild Residents of the Detroit Zoo
The 125-acre Detroit Zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals that represent around 233 species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds from all over the planet. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Detroit, whether you’re exploring the city alone, with friends, or with family. There’s so much to do here that you can easily spend an entire day at the zoo!
We love how the zoo designed true-to-life habitats for its animal residents. The Arctic Ring of Life is a prime example, where you can see polar bears, arctic foxes, and reindeer roaming around a replicated tundra. Another highlight is the Great Apes of Harambee, where you can observe chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas in an expansive African forest. There’s also the African Grasslands, Australian Outback, the American Grasslands, Free-Flight Aviary, and more.
Aside from the themed animal habitats, the Detroit Zoo also has an impressive selection of attractions. The Tauber Family Railroad is a must-ride, as is the Carousel. The zoo also features a 4D theater, a kid-friendly farm, and the PlayVenture playground.
12. Try Detroit’s Iconic Food and Drinks
Motor City is also famous for its food scene, so it would be a shame to visit Detroit without indulging in some of its iconic eats and drinks. Topping the list is Detroit-style pizza, which is characterized by its deep-dish crust, square shape, and generous toppings. The most popular spot for this type of pizza is Buddy’s Pizza, which has been around since the 1940s.
The Coney dog is another local favorite. This hot dog is topped with chili, mustard, and onions and can be easily found in most diners and fast-food joints around Detroit. If you want to try the best of the best, head to Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island.
Another Detroit legend is the Boogaloo Wonderland, which is a hoagie filled with beef, American cheese, tangy red sauce, and caramelized onions. Order one at Chef Greg’s Soul-N-The Wall, and thank us later!
On the sweet side, there’s the Salted Maple Pie from Sister Pie, a must-visit bakery located in the West Village. This pie is made with Michigan maple syrup, sea salt, and a whole lot of love and is the perfect way to end a meal.
Wash everything down with a Boston Cooler or a Hummer Milkshake at the Mercury Burger & Bar. These Detroit inventions are sure to hit the spot!
13. Get Tipsy on the Detroit Brew Trail
With more than 30 breweries in the metro area, Detroit has quickly become a hot spot for craft beer lovers. There’s no better way to explore the city’s thriving beer scene than by following the Detroit Brew Trail. This self-guided tour will take you to some of the best breweries in town, including Atwater Brewery, Batch Brewing Company, Eastern Market Brewing Company, and Motor City Brewing Works.
The Detroit Brew Trail is divided into Downtown Detroit, Macomb County, Wayne County, and Oakland County. The more breweries you visit, the more prizes you can get, including pint glasses, stickers, coasters, and other limited-edition items.
However, the best part of hitting the Detroit Brew Trail is getting to explore Detroit’s different neighborhoods while sampling exceptional craft beer. Cheers!
14. Indulge Your Inner Kid at the Michigan Science Center
Whether you’re eight or 80, the Michigan Science Center is sure to delight and inspire. This family-friendly attraction has something for everyone!
The Michigan Science Center is home to over 250 hands-on exhibits, making it the perfect place to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math. Kids will love the Space Gallery, where they can experience what it’s like to walk on the moon. They can also check out the Math Mountain, Health Gallery, and the STEM Playground, all of which are designed to spark curiosity and encourage hands-on learning.
Even adults will find themselves enjoying the Michigan Science Center. The IMAX Dome Theater will make you feel like you’re on a space mission, while the Planetarium will take you on a tour of the night sky. Another highlight of the Michigan Science Center is the Science Stage which features live demonstrations and performances.
15. Shop Your Way Through Metro Detroit
Whether you want to treat yourself or are looking for the perfect souvenir, Detroit is the place to be. The city is home to a variety of shopping districts and malls, each with its own unique offerings.
At the Twelve Oaks Mall, you’ll find around 200 stores, restaurants, and services, including Macy’s and Apple. For a more upscale shopping experience, head to the Somerset Collection and its 180 luxury restaurants and stores. Somerset’s Nordstrom even has a Tesla gallery inside it!
If laidback shopping is more your style, explore the downtown districts of Birmingham, Ferndale, and Royal Oak. Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of shops, boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores. If you get hungry, there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from as well.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Detroit, MI. What’s your favorite thing to do in Detroit?
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